Republicans will probably be ruing today’s Supreme Court abortion decision

It’s not surprising that Roe v. Wade was formally overturned by our super conservative court today. That’s because the opinion was leaked back in May. It would have been surprising had it changed. Still, it’s shocking nonetheless.

I’m hardly the first pundit to point out that this is like a dog chasing a car and managing to catch the car. Giving the Republican base what they want has been a recurring theme for this court, constructed carefully over nearly fifty years of effort.

Just yesterday we got another 6-3 ruling from the court that invalidated lots of state laws that prohibited the public carry of firearms. We have such a law right here in Massachusetts. I am pissed. I moved to Massachusetts in part because the legislators here are sensible. Our state is one of the safest places in the country because of its gun laws.

But it’s going to be more Wild West in my state, thanks to the court. I live in the western part of the state, the part of the state that elected Scott Brown as our senator after Ted Kennedy died. This area is not exactly liberal but not exactly conservative either. Owning a firearm is more of a hassle here, but I’m certain there are enough Swamp Yankees (as we call them) around here to start openly carrying them. The rest of us will be up in arms, so to speak, the first time we saddle up next to one of these strangers at the bar at the local Applebees.

Today’s decision still allows abortions in states that choose to allow them. If you think this will satisfy the antiabortion crowd, you are incredibly naïve. This is part one of a larger plan to disallow abortions nationwide. It’s not that difficult. Republicans need a majority in both chambers and a control of the presidency. When the inevitable case is brought to the court to invalidate the law, don’t expect a 6-3 conservative court to overturn it.

But this is really part of a much larger agenda to impose minority values on the majority of the people. Justice Thomas was pretty open about his agenda. In his opinion, he states the court should look at reversing all sorts of precedents, like its gay marriage ruling. Expect states to also take aim at the court’s decision in the 1960s invalidating state birth control laws. In short, if nothing changes, we’re moving pretty quickly toward A Handmaid’s Tale world.

All this plus gerrymandering, voter suppression and outright corruption of the electoral process to allow states to send electors at variance with the popular vote of the state and you have all the trappings of permanent minority rule and, essentially, authoritarianism. That’s really what this is all about.

Lack of control drives Republicans batty. They can only feel comfortable if everyone follows rules they set. This gives privileges to those they like (like the gun ruling) while taking it away from those they don’t like (poor pregnant women and minorities.) If you are skeptical, try to find one state with antiabortion laws that also attempts to feed the babies born that would otherwise be aborted. (Hint: none exist. In fact, generally these states keep reducing what measly subsidies exist for poor people.)

The problem is that Republicans think people will be sheep. People aren’t sheep. When abortion was last outlawed, those with the means got them anyhow. Lots of women who couldn’t still managed to get them through unofficial networks while lots of them died attempting their own abortions too.

Moreover, women will remember when abortion was safe, legal and local. They will resent that their reproductive choices were taken away from them. Add in hoped for additional persecution against the LGBTQIA+ community, much of it well underway, and they are feeding rebellion against them and driving demand for the liberal values they so obviously abhor. Also, they drive civil insurrection, which rather than controls society simply adds to its instability.

The whole point of a democratic government is to ensure that government represents the will of the people. Because our system of government gave extraordinary power to southern and rural states, it was lopsided from the beginning. Additional tactics like filibuster rules in the Senate make the problem far worse. Authoritarian governments rarely last long but they are great at causing civil unrest, insurrection and death. Democratic governments are supposed to engender listening and compromise, which engenders trust in government. Only 36% of Americans trust our Supreme Court to act impartially. Approval of Congress is at a low 20%.

Democrats would be wise to run on a new Contract with America in the coming midterms. This badly timed ruling on abortion gives them plenty of fodder to convince the public. There will be plenty of news stories about the ill effects of today’s rulings by then. The contract should include a promise to end filibuster rules at least for any proposal to guarantee abortion rights. What’s more important than that though is to reform the Supreme Court.

I’ve long argued for packing the Supreme Court. Restoring its balance so that it is more representative of the people, rather than disproportionately representative of our most extreme conservatives, is the only real solution to the hellscape Republicans and our super conservative Supreme Court seem anxious to unleash on us.

No good options for controlling inflation

Americans are pissed about inflation and who can blame them?

It’s good news for Republicans, in a way, because voters tend to vent their economic anxieties at the polls. So no one will be surprised if they retake Congress in November, especially after all their recent gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts.

To control inflation though they would have to do a lot of non-Republican stuff like, say, break up the companies that control a lot of these markets due to lack of competition: think oil, meat processing and telecommunication services (like Comcast). In previous (mostly Republican) administrations, they passed over most anti-trust laws that would have prevented this.

In reality there’s not much else that can be done. Oh, they’ll want to open more federal lands to oil leasing, but oil companies will sit on their hands. Why should they drill for more oil when it’s chancy and they can enjoy record profits by simply constricting supply?

But also, there’s little anything any government can do to fix the problem because it’s not a national problem; it’s an international one. If you keep up on the news, you’ll discover people everywhere are experiencing the same thing; in fact it tends to be worse elsewhere else. In many third world countries, inflation means cutting meals or starving: they can’t afford the price of regular commodities. Everyone affected wants some sort of magic cure or, failing that, to shift the costs on someone else. Inflation and the pandemic have been causing a lot of global civil unrest. Global climate change is contributing to the problem as it interferes with growing patterns.

President Nixon tried wage and price controls, which artificially kept inflation in check for a while, then quickly zoomed up when controls were lifted. What most people want though is to have their cake and eat it too: check inflation and have the benefits of a fast growing economy. Supply bottlenecks, particularly from overseas where we get most of our goods, affects everyone. We can’t control that the Chinese government decided to shut down Shanghai for two months to control the pandemic. So prices go up and those who can’t afford the higher prices do without. Sometimes this amounts to malnutrition and starvation.

That’s basically the Federal Reserve’s approach to controlling inflation. Their main tool is to control interest rates and lately they’ve been going up. Applied long enough this should reduce inflation, but it’s a little like breaking legs of random people on the street in an attempt to control the problem of too many pedestrians. The Fed tries to do it as painlessly as possible, but it’s not a painless process. Pain is the whole point. If there is no pain, no easing of demand, then inflation continues to soar.

It’s just that a lot of things you really can’t do without. Like housing, for example. Except, yes, you can do without housing; you can join the growing ranks of the unhoused. By adding incredible amounts of stress to a lot of people’s lives, basically by impoverishing them, you cut demand and control inflation. You also dash a lot of other dreams, or at least defer them, such as buying a home.

President Biden is, of course, doing what he can. But it’s all at the edges because in reality there’s not much a president can do. It amounts to a lot of wishful thinking and hope. Open up some more oil leases and maybe oil companies will start drilling. But even if they do, bringing this new oil on the market will take years. Lately, he ended temporarily tariffs on solar panels. This will make it cheaper to set up solar systems and if more people move toward electric cars, maybe cut demand for gasoline too. But don’t expect it to do much before the midterms.

Changing policy in a meaningful way requires changing the law. It requires Congress to find consensus and to work in the national interest. There’s little of that going on now and you can expect less of it after November as our political polarization deepens some more. Which means that government will only become more ineffectual, making it easier for authoritarians to make their case. After all, as Trump told us, only he can fix it. Only of course he didn’t because the President of the United States is not God.

So any solution to inflation is likely long term at best. Real solutions require close international cooperation and tackling systemic issues like climate change. One thing I can say for certain though is that putting Republicans in charge of Congress next year won’t do a damned thing to make it better.

Our nation’s biggest political mistake

The missus and me have been watching Showtime’s The First Lady. It’s a pretty good series and features three first ladies, at least in this season: Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford and Michele Obama. All were groundbreaking in their own ways. Betty Ford though was an unusual choice. Her husband Gerald Ford became our only unelected president and he failed to win the 1976 election, which brought in Jimmy Carter instead.

Betty Ford was definitely an unusual first lady. She suffered from alcoholism and later famously founded the Betty Ford Center. She also had breast cancer and underwent a partial mastectomy, which she did very publicly, to the consternation of the White House. Betty (played by Michele Pfeiffer) spoke her mind.

There’s a scene in the series though that stood out to me. Not long after Jerry becomes president, he famously pardons his predecessor Richard Nixon for his Watergate-related crimes. As depicted in the series though, Jerry completely blindsides Betty on his decision: she finds out about it while watching him on TV.

She icily confronts him about it later when they retire. Nixon, she tells him, is a bad man and needed to be prosecuted. Jerry says the country needed to heal and it was impossible to get anything done unless he made the issue go away. He saw the pardon in the nation’s interest.

Betty was right and Ford’s decision famously cost him the 1976 election. Americans felt betrayed by Nixon and overwhelmingly wanted him brought to justice and put in prison. Ford’s pardon obviated all that. Watching it in 2022, it reminded me that we are still living with Ford’s catastrophic mistake.

That’s because it set a precedent, let alone spurred rumors that there was a secret deal between Nixon and Ford that Nixon would nominate him for vice president if he would pardon him when he was president. Nixon’s vice president Spiro Agnew resigned due to corruption during his time as Governor of Maryland. (Agnew, BTW, got off relatively light: a $10,000 fine and three years of unsupervised probation.)

I seriously doubt Donald Trump could ever have been nominated, less elected, if Nixon had been prosecuted. Maybe he would have gotten a relatively good deal from the courts like Agnew got, but at least he would have been held accountable by the law. Future seekers of our nation’s highest office would have looked at what happened to Nixon and think, “I’m not going to make his mistake.”

But so far anyhow Donald Trump has escaped consequences for his disastrous presidency. He survived two impeachment conviction votes because his party was spineless enough to put party above country. It’s absolutely clear that had Nixon been impeached, he would have been easily convicted and removed from office. Nixon just had the good sense to cut his losses by resigning.

The rule of law meant something in the 1970s. It doesn’t seem to mean that much anymore, particularly if you are granted a lot of political power.

Donald Trump was liberal in his use of executive power. He pardoned lots of his cronies and supporters, absolving them of paying any penalties for their unlawful acts, mostly on his behalf. Trump remains under investigation at both the federal and state levels, but he’s clearly going with a run-out-the-clock strategy. Our Attorney General Merrick Garland seems content to slow walk justice, working from the bottom up. Garland says upper level prosecutions will come in time if they are warranted. We’d be wise not to hold our breath.

Crimes by politicians seem to be the very last of the Justice Department’s priorities. In reality, it should be the other way around. Indeed, the Justice Department should arguably be a separate agency funded by Congress but overseen by the courts. If it’s accountable to the Executive, it’s susceptible to corruption, which is exactly how the department was managed during the Trump years.

Gerald Ford’s intentions in pardoning Nixon were likely noble. As I noted on his passing, Gerald Ford was a genuinely good person and likely our most decent president, something I don’t say lightly when it comes to Republicans. After leaving office, he and his rival Jimmy Carter became something of best friends, something hard to image today. Both men didn’t hold grudges and both were drawn to each other by suffering the shame of being one term presidents.

But his pardon of Richard Nixon remains a catastrophic mistake. The times we are living through today would likely be at least a whole lot less rocky if he had let the justice system work. Instead, our democracy is at the breaking point and our Justice Department’s inability to focus on what really matters is contributing greatly toward it.

Cryptocurrencies Achilles heel: trust

I seem to enjoy beating up on cryptocurrencies, despite owning a bit of it.

Volatility seems to be part of owning them as virtually all these currencies are way down from their most recent highs, more so than markets in general. To deal with all the volatility though, many of these currencies have offshoots called stablecoins. The idea of a stablecoin in that it should retain its value in relation to some other store, typically the U.S. dollar. This is supposed to allow easier trade of these currencies without the downside of its implicit volatility.

That’s the theory anyhow. Most of these so-called stablecoins are sort of living up to the promise, with some losing five percent or so compared to the U.S. dollar, but generally only for short periods of time. Some of these so-called coins put money in assets like gold, which I guess they figure is more stable than dollars, or at least more inflation resistant. The price of gold though tends to be pretty volatile, up in risky times, down in more secure times. Others “invest” in other cryptocurrencies, sort of like a crypto index fund. They hope that if one of these goes down some others will go up and counterbalance things. These assets though are mostly loaned out, which is how these coin creators make money. It needs to make sure there are enough real assets in cash to handle a run on the coin. It appears that many of them do this poorly. Anyhow, for sure they are not being monitored by the FDIC.

Then there is TerraUSD, which recently and spectacularly wiped out about $45B in investor assets. One dollar of TerraUSD is now worth about $.07, but it’s hard to unload it if you have it because its trading has largely been suspended. Since May 9, 2022 its value is no longer pegged to the U.S. dollar. Lots of people rushed in to own TerraUSD because it was guaranteeing a 20% return.

TerraUSD succeeded in maintaining its value for so long mainly by purchasing more of its non-stablecoin Luna whenever TerraUSD’s value slipped a bit, and pegging its value to that. It was a stablecoin by algorithm, which if investors knew about this, should by itself have been a red flag. Anyhow, they’ve been pretty much wiped out. The coin’s founder Do Kwan though doesn’t seem too upset and is working to create a new Terra stablecoin fork that isn’t pegged to the US dollar. Presumably his current investors won’t be stupid enough to trust this man again.

It’s hard to find a sure fire bet against inflation these days. The closest version though won’t be a stablecoin, but a U.S. Treasury I Bond. You can get a 9.63% return on an investment up to $10,000 a year, or $15,000 if you invest up to $5000 of your tax refund in this bond. That won’t hedge much of most people’s portfolio, but at least it’s guaranteed by the U.S. government.

TerraUSD’s value was guaranteed by nothing. It is essentially a Ponzi scheme. Anyhow, Do Kwon is being investigated by South Korean authorities. I’m betting most of his investors assets went into his pocket. I’m also betting not much of it is ultimately recovered and returned to investors.

Crypto investors are slowly discovering that crypto is mostly a lot of smoke and mirrors. The smarter ones have left the market altogether, but certainly there are diehards in for the long haul. What crypto really needs is regulation. Unfortunately, regulation means tracking, less privacy and likely less return on these “investments”.

Crypto was invented to make the transfer of money seamless, private and quick. Regulation won’t make it seamless. It also won’t keep things private. And it’s likely to slow things down too, as if things weren’t already pretty slow trading these “investments”. Also, it costs money to trade crypto, either directly or indirectly. When I write someone a check, its full value is exchanged. You just have to wait a few days for the funds to clear.

So crypto needs to be tamed to work, but does it really work at all if it doesn’t achieve its goals? A cryptocurrency whose only value is some correlation between the cost in energy it took to produce it doesn’t seem valuable. As best I can tell, no one first buys, say, $100M in gold assets and then creates 100 million digital coins tied to this asset, and sells them at $1 each. But if someone did, is this really a cryptocurrency? It sounds like a share of an index fund whose ownership can be documented in a public blockchain server somewhere instead of a ledger in a brokerage house.

The U.S. dollar is backed up by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. You have to assume the country will not be going away and that its money supply will be at least reasonably well managed, but that’s a pretty safe bet. And since it’s a government in charge you can assume it has smart people, like the members of the Federal Reserve, continuously monitoring the financial world and taking steps (like it is doing now raising interest rates) when things go awry.

Who do you trust more, the U.S. government, despite its not stellar record on retaining the value of the dollar? Or Do Kwon? In some ways, inflation appears to be the cost of keeping money transfer moving at all.

Our banking system, despite its imperfections and the slowness by which is transfer assets, at least ensures accountability and, at least in theory, legitimacy of these transactions if they adhere to international banking laws. It sounds like a much safer way to transfer money than to trust in people like Do Kwon.

White replacement theory is so painfully dumb

In my last post, I noted that Trump famously said he likes the uneducated. I’m not surprised, since Trump is appallingly uneducated. But he can relate to them. But Republicans in general seem to prefer the uneducated because they will believe any sort of crap they throw out there.

White replacement theory is just the latest example. It was made tragically manifest Saturday with a shooting in Buffalo, New York by a white guy from Conklin, New York. Conklin is a stone’s throw from where I spent my formative years, in Endwell, near Binghamton. I remember our area as being painfully White, so much so that I don’t recall seeing my first Black person until I was in my teens.

It was less so last time I visited. But I have a feeling Conklin remains pretty lily White. Anyhow the alleged shooter was echoing the theory’s talking points by plenty of others in the G.O.P. including, most prominently, Fox News commentators Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. The theory, in case you are unfamiliar with it, is that there is a conspiracy among elites to replace White people with people of color.

You notice that it’s always a conspiracy? It can’t happen as a result of natural forces; it must be some vast left wing conspiracy at work. Like Trump’s idea that China had a weapon to create hurricanes, it’s an idea so painfully dumb it actually makes my head hurt. It’s just laughable that anyone would actually believe this crap. But the shooter apparently did. He was so animated by it he allegedly killed ten Black people including a store security guard, and wounded three others. He pleaded not guilty, but he has a 180-page screed you can read if you got the stomach for it and, of course, for a while it was streamed live on Twitch from his helmet cam.

We know that skin color amounts to less than one percent of our DNA. So we are all fundamentally the same. White replacement theory makes about as much sense as a conspiracy than that blondes or pug-nosed people control the world. If someone came to me with the latter idea and they sincerely believed it, I would do my best to get them to see a mental health professional. The same is true with anyone who believes (fill in the blank) are engaged in a massive, hidden conspiracy to (fill in the blank).

These theories seem to be attractive because it’s a way to make sense of the nonsensical. It’s like believing that God is love and God is hate at the same time. Something has to bridge the divide if you are to maintain any semblance of sanity, so something laughable must be invented. There are no grand conspiracies. There is no Trilateral Commission. Trump lost the 2020 election too and it was likely the most secure national election of all time.

If you were concerned about White replacement though, a lot of what the Right is doing is counterproductive. Take the expected Supreme Court decision expected to overturn Roe v. Wade. For the most part, white women aren’t going to have a problem getting an abortion. We know this because it was the case when it was last illegal. It will be a problem for people of color who are predominantly poorer. Anti-abortionists, many of whom are also racists, are making worse the very problem they decry.

Birth rates are higher among minorities because it’s harder to get abortions, it’s harder to afford birth control and when you are economically challenged you are often put at disproportionate risk for incidents like violence, rape, and marital abuse. Good Catholics won’t use contraception, but most Catholics look the other way on what the Church teaches them.

Catholicism might explain why Hispanic Americans have a higher birthrate compared to Whites. But it doesn’t explain the birthrates among Blacks, who are not disproportionately Catholic. My black friends tend to have more children mostly because they are more likely to have had dysfunctional relationships, which is likely largely a result of living at the margins most of their lives.

The reverse is true. The birthrate among Whites is down not because of a grand conspiracy, but because they have more control over whether to opt to have a family or not. The average age of a mother having a first child in the United States is now 30. Having babies is not a priority, and easy access to contraception and abortion makes it easier to avoid.

That’s because having kids today is darn expensive, at least if you don’t want them to grow up in poverty and have something resembling a first-world lifestyle. We stopped at one child because we figured this out thirty years ago. Indeed, the cost of raising just our daughter was at least $200,000, and likely a lot more than that, and that included a discounted public education. With two kids, it’s not clear we’d now both be retired and debt free.

If you want more White babies, I dunno, maybe make it cheaper to have kids? For example, childcare could be subsidized, like is true in much of Europe. But we can’t have that; it’s socialism. Maybe grant parental leave to new mothers and fathers? Except for a handful of states, that’s also seen as socialism by Republicans. Maybe subsidize baby formula and disposable diapers? More socialism, naturally. Oh, and maybe robustly fund the public schools so our kids don’t grow up believing racist crap like this? Republicans though seem to want to get rid of public schools altogether and keeping kids from being enlightened seems to be the animus behind “woke” laws.

If the United States was to be a nation for Whites, then maybe we shouldn’t have invited over so many minorities? Of course most Black Americans are ancestors of slaves so they had no choice in the matter. But Southern plantation owners had no such qualms and needed someone to pick their cotton for cheap. We brought over so many minorities and people of color mostly so Whites could live their lifestyles on the cheap. Our country didn’t build itself. It was largely built on the backs of slaves and the oppressed.

Now people that those who believe in the White replacement theory want them gone, or at least oppressed and disempowered. Because that’s like totally fair because having people near them with a different skin hue makes them very nervous.

To me, fully enfranchising all Americans is long overdue and would demonstrate America at its best. What’s really going on is that Whites are reaping what they have sown. Many just don’t want to pay the price.

Blogging in unprecedented and depressing times

Well, this is new: two new email subscribers to my blog in less than twenty four hours! Welcome! Occam’s Razor is a very obscure back corner of the internet, so it’s flattering when I get new subscribers. I hope you find it is worth your time.

In 2002, when I started blogging, it was chic. For a time it was glorious to be a blogger, even an obscure blogger like me that likes to publish anonymously. I rode a wave. I’d routinely get hundreds of page views a day with no effort. Also, people would leave comments.

But things rarely stay novel on the Internet. Blogging got commercialized and monetized. Tech firms found ways to move readers to aggregator sites and social networks that were more interesting and more profitable. To get your blog read, you generally needed to be some sort of minor celebrity, or, more recently, attach yourself to a major blogging platform like Substack. That’s why I’ve ruminated ending the blog in December when I hit the twenty year mark. Now, maybe not so much.

In truth, to succeed in blogging you had to work hard at it: posting regularly and spending a lot of time marketing it. Then you had to hope that people would want to read your blog. I simply didn’t have the energy to give it that kind of attention. I care enough about the blog to try to post to it regularly and to make a post as interesting and insightful as I can, but not enough to market it. Besides, it’s not a blog for most people. It’s a blog for the intellectually curious, or at least I hope it’s that.

I’m a guy that thinks a lot. It’s human to look for meaning in life even though with so much chaos in life it’s doubtful that much meaning can really be ascribed to it. Still, I’m convinced that that while not everything in life has meaning, a lot of it does. When I can piece together these inferences, it’s hard for me not to share my insights here.

It’s clear to me that we live in unprecedented times. Things are more likely to end badly than not as all sorts of macro forces are at work. We simply lack the national and international will to change things at the moment. There are attempts, like the Paris Climate Accords. But because we live in a world of countries, and each one is autonomous, there’s no way to orchestrate the change that is needed. As disorder gets worse, it may spur the change that is needed. Vested interests though are hard at work to keep this from happening.

We are being played. Republicans play to the fears of their base, and actually inflame those fears to make things worse. In the last ten years it’s gotten clearly Orwellian. Republicans in general simply refuse to accept facts. Trump himself said he loves the uneducated. No wonder because he’s appallingly ignorant on so many levels. The latest example reported recently is that he thought China was using weapons to create hurricanes.

It’s but just one example of an endless supply of baseless and supremely ignorant ideas Trump and Republicans in general wallow in all the time, like Hunter Biden’s laptop. It’s done to acquire power because it’s well known that appears to emotion easily out trump appeals to reason. It’s just that in 2016 Trump somehow got put into office and could actually try to act on this crazy stuff. Naturally he was inclined to believe anything that kept him from examining his own logic.

If we feel it is true, then it must be right, regardless of whether science says otherwise. The American west is quickly drying up as the planet heats up. There won’t be the water to sustain the people who live there. They’ll be migrating east, for the most part. It’s not a question of if, but when. Climate change is happening, but even as Indians die from heat so intense their bodies can’t keep up with it, the skeptics won’t entertain the idea that climate change is the root cause.

It’s getting worse and quickly accelerating. So what are people doing? In America, is seems they are mostly migrating to Florida, whose coastlines are already being ravaged. In twenty years Miami will mostly be underwater. My sister retired from Fort Lauderdale to Titusville. Her house rests on a bluff of sorts about thirty feet above sea level. Good for her but it’s a stopgap measure. She just likes to boat. The most valuable land in the future isn’t in Florida, it is already for sale at bargain prices in states like Ohio and New York where the climate will still accommodate people. Instead, people are moving in droves to doomed states like Florida. It makes no sense.

Just to mitigate climate change around the edges will require rethinking and redoing everything. The American lifestyle is simply not sustainable. It requires people to act and think logically and coherently. It means trusting in scientists. It means hunkering down, eating less meat and living more like a village lifestyle than a jetsetter’s lifestyle. It means having fewer children, reclaiming blighted areas and ending deforestation. At some point it will means closing economic markets like Brazil and, yes, potentially the United States, until we act sustainably.

That’s what’s required. But I’m betting we’ll continually choose to fall over our own tied shoelaces instead.

A truly heinous Roe v. Wade decision looks likely

It hasn’t been looking good for Roe v. Wade for a long time. So the shocking leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito shouldn’t surprise us too much with its bottom line. The court looks likely to overturn 49 years of precedence in a 5-4 decision, a decision made possible in part by Republicans pulling out all the stops, most recently by Senator Mitch McConnell’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court during President Obama’s term.

Who done it? We may never know. The easy answer is to blame some liberal-leaning law clerk. My guess is that it was just the opposite. While the outcome is not in much suspense, Alito’s draft opinion is just shocking for its rationale and mendacity.

His main thesis seems to be that abortion can be controlled by the states because laws against it are “deeply rooted” in tradition. Also deeply rooted are laws like only white male property owners can vote, slavery is okay and women shouldn’t be able to vote. Mind you this is the same justice that helped decide Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which decided that corporations are people. That’s not deeply rooted anywhere in American history; in fact it was nowhere in the law.

Alito, and apparently the conservative wing of the court, were looking for a pretext to overturn the 1973 ruling, and this was the rationale they came up with. It can be used as pretext for overturning all sorts of Supreme Court rulings, rulings on gay marriage, interracial marriages and separate but equal educations, for example.

I suspect that an opinion like this would get cleaned up in subsequent versions by other justices. This is unlikely to happen now because if the other conservative justices attempt to change the rationale, it will be clear to the radical right that they caved. The more radical the opinion, the better, is probably what the right is hoping for. They see the rationale for overturning Roe not just as a way to end abortions, but as a cudgel that will allow all sorts of other rulings to be overturned.

I was no fan of Citizens United. But at least it followed the general trend by the court of expanding civil liberties. If this ruling stands, you’d be hard pressed to find other rulings that actually curtailed rights. That’s what this ruling will do. It essentially means that pregnant women lose bodily autonomy. At least during pregnancy, they are not people: they are breeders for the state.

If the states were a bit looser in their abortion laws, overruling Roe might be easier to swallow. But states are going for the jugular. In many of these states, new laws make no exceptions for rape or incest. Not aborting an ectopic pregnancy can kill the mother. These laws will literally kill women trying to save fetal lives that cannot possibly be viable.

I’m reminded of a scene from the second season of Bridgerton, which you can find on Netflix. The young Lord Bridgerton’s mother is in labor, after his father dies suddenly. The baby is in a breach position. The attending doctor asks Lord Bridgerton whose life to save: the mother’s or the child’s. At least Lord Bridgerton gets a choice, although of course no one bothers to ask his mother. She has no choice in this: she is just chattel. If this ruling stands it’s pretty clear who wins in our brave new world in many states: the mother must die on the off chance a baby may live.

That’s what being “right to life” means to these crazy pro-life people. We will kill others including mothers, including mothers who were raped, if necessary to save a fetus. In many cases, it’s not a fetus, but an embryo. The expectant mother has no say in carrying a child to term. She’s like a mare being studded. She’s a baby factory; not a person and in the case of rape has no say in who can impregnate her either.

Roughly seventy percent of Americans believe that at least some abortion rights must be allowed. This radical decision is thus at wide variance with the consistent view of the American people. It is the tyranny of the minority in action that I have warned about.

It is likely though that when these new state laws actually go into effect and women actually start dying from unplanned pregnancies again, it will have a major boomerang effect in the midterms. It may be the gift that keeps Democrats in power in Congress, despite all the gerrymandering and voter suppression. Generally, the most passionate voters show up. If most of those who support abortion rights are passionate about it, they’ll show up in November and overwhelm the antichoice votes. In that sense the Supreme Court would have been smarter to delay this decision until shortly after the midterms.

Our Supreme Court is using overturning Roe to establish a new precedent to go after all sorts of laws and rights hitherto assumed sacrosanct. This makes the decision not just awful, but genuinely heinous.

If I were a Supreme Court justice voting for this, I would demand 24/7 security. By putting targets on the backs of pregnant women, they may be putting one on their backs too.

Republicans are dancing to the Pied Piper

Attention Republicans, or should I say lemmings: you are being misled. Right off the cliff, I mean.

I hate to break this to you, but you guys (and gals) are painfully easy to manipulate. All your opinion leaders have to do is play to your prejudices and you fall in line like enthusiastic sheep welcoming the glory of the slaughterhouse.

I am sure there are “woke” Republicans, in the sense that some of these sheep know what awaits them. I don’t think there are many of them. Most came out as Never Trumpers years ago and have been scorned by their own party. Others are lying low, like Jeb Bush, hoping for a day when all this madness is gone and they will be in vogue again.

Just as P.T. Barnum observed there’s a sucker born every minute, the rest of us “woke” people realize there’s at least one new Republican sheep anxious to bound toward the slaughterhouse born every minute too. Indeed, plenty of these sheep have bounded so hard they didn’t make it and fell over dead along the way. They were unmasked and unvaccinated, for the most part.

After all, their ultimate opinion leader, Donald Trump, told them the pandemic was largely fake news and flouted common sense rules to mitigate the spread of the disease. You guys ate it up because if there’s anything guaranteed to get you riled up, it’s “owning the libs” and appealing to your sense of aggrievement and self-righteousness.

The libs, by the way were, for the most part, busy limiting social contact, masking and getting vaccinations and boosters as soon as they could. Of course you wanted the opposite of that. By definition in your mind anything a liberal does must be wrong, so you had to head in the opposite direction. In the past though you might have ambled in that direction. Now you sprint in that direction.

Your opinion leaders don’t think and behave at all like you. Take Tucker Carlson. When was the last time you wore a bowtie? What about Sean Hannity? When was the last time you wore a suit and parted your hair in the middle? What about Donald Trump? How many of you got at least $100M seeder money from your father? How many of you self-reliant types had a big daddy to bail you out when you kept tripping over your own shoelaces? How many of you go years between going to church, as is typical of Donald Trump, who shows up maybe at an odd funeral? How many of you choose golf and country club dining over a NASCAR race, a shooting range and dinner at an Applebees? How many of you got vaccinated and boosted while Fox News tracks employees vaccination statuses and requires masks in many meetings? In short, aren’t your leaders full of hypocrisy? Why can’t you see their bullshit? The rest of us can.

It’s because they know how to pull your strings and as I said, it’s not hard. If I wanted to use you like grist in the mill I could do so as well; I’d just have to lose a sense of conscience, which for them is long gone. Arguably, Donald Trump never developed one. Worse, these conscienceless people’s habits have turned you into arguably horrible people.

Just five years ago, I knew of conservatives ago really didn’t care if people were gay and had no problem with gay marriage. It was live and let live for a lot of these people back then as many were libertarian in spirit. Much of their overt racism was gone too. Today, it’s all back, baby, because your opinion leaders like Donald Trump know these fears are easily rekindled.

And that’s what it’s all about: keeping you afraid. They know that our most powerful motivator is fear. It’s in their interest to keep you feeling afraid because when you feel afraid you vote for them. Your ability to believe ludicrous crap is apparently bottomless, such as the 2020 election was somehow “stolen” when there was virtually no evidence this was true, as attested by many judges who were appointed by Donald Trump.

And when they are in power, they are glad to pick your pocket. They do it indirectly with obscene tax cuts for the rich. But they also do it directly, like by channeling your donations to Trump’s PACs into his own pocket.

You are not just being used; you are being abused. You are being treated badly. You are like an abused wife certain it must be something she did that’s responsible for making her husband beat her. At root, they’ve recognized that you don’t have much self-esteem and they can use your faults against you and to profit them. And you are dying needlessly by the hundreds of thousands, mostly from covid-19, because you are under their spell. It must be the liberal’s fault that you got the disease. It all must be part of some massive conspiracy when in truth massive conspiracies are virtually impossible to pull off.

I don’t expect you to wake up and smell the coffee, as Ann Landers used to say. Most of you won’t make it to the end of this. The rest of us pity you and, yes, fear you too. Your opinion leaders have created tens of millions of loose cannons. All the rest of us can do is hope that when they go off we can avoid most of the shrapnel and that your exalted leaders take direct hits. Believe me they deserve your retribution.

Elon Musk, Twitter and “free speech”

It can’t be just me, but I really loath Elon Musk.

He reminds me of Donald Trump, only with a bigger ego and with more brains and a true fortune – he’s the world’s richest person. With eighty million Twitter followers, I’m not surprised that he recently became Twitter’s largest shareholder and now is attempting a hostile takeover of the platform. In response, Twitter has set up a poison pill which allows it to issue more shares of its stock if necessary, obviating his ability to get a majority of shares.

Without giving out too many details, I have a brother in law who had a run in with Elon. This was more than a decade ago but not before he was busy getting into the space business. SpaceX was bidding on government work and Elon’s ego of course got in the way. He started dissing NASA and engaging in behavior that was boorish at best and unethical and/or possibly illegal at worst. My brother in law, working through his lawyers, got an apology from Elon that smoothed things over.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

It’s clear though that Elon hasn’t learned the lesson.

Two things really cemented Musk’s fortune. First was PayPal, and he was clearly an innovator in this space, figuring out that micro payment services were going to be a thing and people needed a broker to make these transactions. Most of us have to pay homage in the form of PayPal fees to Elon’s company. Just today a $205 bill I sent to a client in the UK was minus $9.49 in PayPal fees. It costs money, you know, to transfer British pounds to U.S. dollars but also they can get away with it because they don’t have much effective competition. Venmo? PayPal owes that one too.

But a lot of his fortune was made at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. I’m not talking just about his ability to pay little to no taxes, or the offshoring of his many companies for the same purpose. He’s hardly alone there but, Jesus, the guy is worth an estimated $270 billion dollars! He’s a compelling reason for a wealth tax. And the reality is he’d never notice the tax. It’s change that slipped into the cracks of his sofa.

Anyhow, Tesla was heavily subsidized by the U.S. government when it got started. The government does things like this all the time because the private sector won’t otherwise bear the risk of new technologies, electric cars in his case. Arguably, there is no more pressing need than addressing climate change. Solyndra, for example, spent $570M that was ultimately wasted. President Obama got hell for it at the time, but the government doesn’t expect all these ventures to succeed. It floods the market in the hopes that some of them would succeed, and Tesla did. It’s one of the world’s most profitable companies now, thanks to at least $2.4B in U.S. government subsidies.

So good for Elon for succeeding in a new market where so many others failed, but he’d not have much of his wealth if it weren’t for these subsidies. That’s because he likely wouldn’t have gotten into the market in the first place. I’m all for electric cars, but I can’t stand the thought of buying a Tesla, mainly because I see Musk’s face when I picture Tesla.

Now Musk wants to buy Twitter to let free speech flow again. It sounds like if he were running it, we’d all be able to post as often as we wanted to, with no restrictions. So it’s fair to think that Donald Trump’s Twitter account would become active again, and his lifetime ban would go away.

I don’t understand Twitter’s appeal. I barely use it, except to post that I have a new post that anyone can read. It has one tenth the user share of Facebook. The 280 character limit on posts still feels confining, and trying to follow threads among multiple posts is jarring. The incessant mention and tag symbols make it hard to parse. And it’s distracting. How do you get any real work done if you are tweeting all day?

But also, it’s a proven platform for hate and disinformation. Despite efforts to crack down on bogus accounts, they are still plentiful. There’s very little actual free speech on Twitter, because both posts and replies are drowned by often hateful and factually incorrect information. Unless you are very well read outside of Twitter, it’s hard to know what’s real or fake. As a solution to the free speech problem, it sucks. True free speech is frequently drowned out and little of it contributes to genuine dialog or true information or insight.

Also, the private sector doesn’t have an obligation to provide free speech. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government from regulating free speech. Government doing this doesn’t seem to bother many Republicans, who are all about keeping teachers from freely speaking that Timmy’s got two dads. Anyhow, Twitter can set its own rules. Given how bad a job Twitter used to do at regulating its platform, going back to that seems counterproductive. Twitter’s current policies remain haphazard and largely ineffectual in promoting actual useful speech and communications.

But if we have to ensure free speech on Twitter, I have a modest proposal: ensure everyone who has an account is who they say they are and let them be the only posters. The number of checked (verified) Twitter users is still pretty small. If you are going to exercise your right to free speech on this platform, do it publicly. Their Twitter profiles should document the steps that Twitter took to verify their account, and when. Ensure that those posting go through periodic Captcha to prove they are a human. The same should be true for official accounts of companies, organizations and governments posting on the platform. Bullies should not be able to hide in fake profiles. If someone is defaming someone else on the platform, Twitter should help facilitate defamation lawsuits by aggrieved parties. That’s a tangible way to stop the bullying and intimidation rife on the platform.

I doubt Musk wants any of that. I too hide behind a Twitter profile but I’ll happily unmask if everyone else has to as well, or, more likely, I’d stop using the platform, which is of marginal value anyway.

Russia isn’t a superpower and won’t be one again

Russia’s war in Ukraine has been ghastly but also illuminating. It’s illuminated just how broke and dysfunctional its military is and how endemic the corruption is within it. But it’s also illuminating that the country is no longer a superpower, and likely won’t ever be one again.

There are a number of reasons for this.

First, it’s a corrupt state. If oligarchs can siphon off much of the money that would otherwise go to the state, it deprives the state of the resources it needs to be effective. This is evident in the condition of Russia’s military in the Ukraine war, where much of it equipment is breaking down. Their hardware is generally shoddy because a whole chain of people got kickbacks instead of insisting the stuff they were buying was of quality. Much of their military is corrupt too, but even if they wanted to be otherwise, senior leadership won’t allow them not to be corrupt. You succeed in Russia’s military by being a toady but remaining far enough down in the hierarchy where you won’t be held accountable.

Second, its military is badly managed. Its recruits are for the most part of low caliber and they don’t get the training they need to effectively do their jobs. There is little delegation of authority, meaning local commanders can’t adapt to changing conditions. The pay is poor too and conscripts are rarely of high quality. They also haven’t figured out how to run a military logistics chain properly. And their troops seem to lack many of the basics needed to be effective, like gas for their tanks, regular resupplies and secure phones for communications.

Most importantly, they’ve been priced out of the superpower field. This is essentially how we won the Cold War in the first place: we outspent the Soviet Union because our GDP allowed us to do it. To some extent Russia held on by being clever, such as by developing more effective tactical weapons. But with a GDP less than ten percent of the United States, they simply didn’t have the means to compete forever.

Effectively, China has replaced them as the world’s new superpower. They did it by embracing capitalism, utilizing its abundance of cheap labor and a growing highly skilled workforce that embraced education. This created double digit economic growth year over year, giving them a GDP that is now rivaling that of the United States. This also gave them the resources to expand their military, build aircraft carriers, improve their ballistic missiles and create the infrastructure needed to support a first class military.

Russia embraced corrupt capitalism after it lost the Cold War. It helped improve their dismal GDP, but not enormously. Capitalism was concentrated in assets it already had, like oil and gas, rather than in new and emerging technologies. It did not reinvest its profits in things that matter like China did: infrastructure and education. To the extent Russia can wield political power, it depends on aging technology. Its nuclear warheads are one of its biggest assets, but hardest to wield effectively.

All this is not to suggest the United States is home free. Our political polarization brings lack of unity, which adds to our own governmental dysfunction. We effectively have our own oligarchy in the United States too, and it is creating huge inequality and poverty. The Republican focus on taxes as being bad also means less investments in the future. With enough disunion, the United States can be broken apart. The same is true with many countries rife with sectarian struggles. Russia might succeed in a way through our failures. So far though we keep funding our defense establishment lavishly, and our military remains one that is highly trained and effective.

Obviously, Russia is still capable of causing a lot of conflict, misery and death. But its military mindset is still stuck in the 20th century. It can perhaps nuke Ukraine into submission, but it has forever lost the hearts and minds of its people. It can only succeed by brute force, if it can find the resources to do so, but it is doomed to eventually fail. The war has proven catastrophically unwinnable for them, and any victory would be pyrhhic at best. In the process, it is turning the country into an outlaw state, further depriving them of the resources they will need to thrive in the future.

This war, which is likely to drag on for years, will likely be seen as the biggest boondoggle of the 21st century, at least so far.